The lack of housing in the Cowichan Valley is hurting local businesses and their employees, according to a survey conducted by Economic Development Cowichan.
The results of the survey, which was launched last spring as part of an initiative by the EDC with the assistance of Cowichan Housing Association, demonstrate the negative impact that housing challenges are having on the region’s businesses.
The purpose of the survey was to gather initial background information about workforce housing needs, preferences, opportunities, and interest in potential solutions as the EDC works towards the development of a workforce housing strategy for the Cowichan area.
The survey was available to both employers and employees, and 98 employers and 154 employees submitted responses.
Many employees who took the survey indicated that high housing costs, instability in the housing market, limited options and low availability impact their lives daily, while employers noted that housing issues are affecting morale and performance at the work site, and they are losing workers or unable to recruit new staff.
But despite the challenges, employers and employees demonstrated an optimism and support in the survey for a variety of interventions to assist workers in Cowichan with finding appropriate and affordable housing.
They include relaxing zoning requirements for secondary suites and accessory dwelling units, allowing temporary housing in RVs, providing clarity around short-term rental allowances, and creating more incentives for developers to build affordable housing units.
There was also support for exploring the potential for the Cowichan Housing Association to become a housing developer or a housing authority.
More information on the survey can be found at https://www.planyourcowichan.ca/workforce-housing?tool=survey_tool#tool_tab.
The report was presented at the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 8.
Cobble Hill director Mike Wilson asked the EDC’s Brittany Taylor what the next steps are in the process to develop the workforce housing strategy.
“The information in the report is informing our work on the strategy, but there are a number of items (including those listed above) we’ve pointed out in the staff report that we could initiate more investigation on right away, if that was the desire of the committee and board,” she said.
CVRD board chair Aaron Stone, who is also the mayor of Ladysmith, said the survey results validate what the district has been hearing on the streets.
He said that as a business owner himself, he has been facing challenges with finding employees due to the housing crisis.
“I think the survey is important as it provides us with that next step and I feel the need to move toward action because we have been talking at lot about these issues over the last few years, especially as it’s becoming more and more of a crisis,” Stone said.
“It feels like a pending catastrophe to some degree, and I’d argue that maybe we’re already there.”
The CVRD allocated $60,000 to support the development of the workforce housing strategy in 2021, and the committee recommended at its meeting on Feb. 8 that a further $10,000 from reserves be dedicated to fund additional consultation activities for the strategy.